I didn’t think much about gratitude while growing up. Actually, I’d say I was pretty ungrateful in those years. Raised in a dysfunctional family — although I didn’t know that’s what it was then, just that my father would rage at a moment’s notice — we often ran for our lives. Literally. It wasn’t until I married a man in a 12-step program that I considered the word gratitude.
While my new husband’s recovery from prescription painkillers opened the Al-Anon door for me, I couldn’t relate to others struggling with loved ones’ active addictions because my husband already had three drug-free years when we met. In times of angst, I turned to gardening but it couldn’t eradicate a darkness I felt deep within. And then I found a different 12-step meeting — ACOA. For the first time in my life I felt I belonged, and tasted true fellowship.
Listening to others traumas from similar or worse upbringings lessened the impact of my own. I now realized my family wasn’t the only one that didn’t look like Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want or Freedom from Fear paintings. Feeling safe and unjudged, I unveiled the shame that overshadowed three decades of my life. I now understood my father as a rageaholic and how this ill-affected our family. (This is the early 1990’s before recovery became a buzzword and rehabs became multi-million dollar businesses.)
Twelve Step meetings — of any kind — frequently discuss gratitude and suggest keeping a gratitude journal to heal the spirit. My gratitude can be as simple as I’m grateful the sun is shining, for the joy my dog gives to me, or for my eyes to see the beauty around me. It is a daily prompt in my thoughts illuminating my heart.
A gift of the Twelve Steps is learning to live life instead of just surviving, existing, staying sober or stopping an addiction. Hearing someone share, “I was so busy looking at the thorns that I didn’t see the rose,” changed my life forevermore. I now look for gifts in unanticipated circumstances rather than see challenges as problems. The more I became grateful, the more I’ve had to be grateful for.
A few more decades later, I’m still evolving and learning other shades of gratitude. I’ve come to realize and feel grateful that the darkness of my youth led me to 12-step recovery. The Twelve Steps expanded my spirituality and lessened my fears to try new things and be who I really am. I evolved to become passionate about hand drumming which led to my interest in the Tao. My understanding of the Tao and life grows through gardening. Coming full circle, I more fully understand and am grateful for all the layers of my life. As my 12-step friend once told me, “The gift is as great as the pain.”